13 Oct 2014

Born by chance: handbag photography II

A few months ago I wrote a post that I called Handbag photography (check it out here) in which I explained the benefits of having a small, inconspicuous camera, the most obvious of them being that the camera will be with you more often than not, if not at all times, since it fits a small handbag and you will, therefore, carry it with you on a daily basis, rather than bringing the bigger dslr with you when you are going out on a conscious, planned photo session. This has nothing to do with image quality or any other technical aspect of photography (this is not a debate between big vs. small gear nor a brand/system war), but rather with the way or style of shooting you will do. You can no doubt reach the same end with various tools, but the way to get to that final point will be totally different.

Tightrope 'workers', GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Barcode, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Most of the posts of this blog, which means most of my photography, come from those days when I consciously grab my cameras and go out to shoot. The destinations, purposes and intentions are multiple, but there is one common and underlying premise in all of them: I'm out intentionally shooting. I switch on the photography mood and off I go, fully prepared for a photo walk. This doesn't mean that everything is pre-planned or arranged beforehand, since I always like to improvise along the way and let things unfold in an adventurous, natural way, but it's nevertheless a wittingly exercise triggered by a very clear goal: go out and shoot!

Night hut, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Finish line, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Social isolation, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Late dinner, GM1 + Olympus M Zuiko 45mm
Handbag photography alludes to the opposite approach: all those images that you create or capture while you are carrying on your daily routines, while performing mundane tasks or enjoying some leisure time, so long as you are not deliberately on a photo session; handbag photography refers to those images that happen while you are doing something else, but that are possible because you are carrying a camera with you at that moment. This doesn't mean that a bigger camera is not suitable for this kind of unplanned or unexpected photography (in fact, the first picture of this post was taken with my bigger mirrorless), but a small, unobtrusive camera is preferable since it is so small that you can carry it with you without noticing it.

A plot of light, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The crossing I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The crossing II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The images in this post diverge completely from one another in terms of content, location, style and even processing, and they were taken in the span of a few months, yet they all were born by chance (as the title says) because I had the camera with me while I was doing something else: looking for the restroom in a sports event, walking back home after dinner with visiting friends, enjoying some drinks and food at late night hours, guiding a group of students through the streets and museums of Madrid and other Spanish landmarks while on a study trip... I was an spectator, a walker, a drinker and a guide respectively in all those contexts, but I happened to have my camera within hand's reach, inside my handbag, at all times, and that's how all these captures were created.

The signs of time, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
On frames, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
You don't necessarily need to be hungry to fancy a piece of cake when you suddenly see one in a bakery's window, and the same applies to this kind of photography: assuming you have a passion (and an eye) for photography, the photographer in you will always be there, ready to stand up anytime you see something that catches your attention from a visual point of view; even when you are busy doing some other task, you never stop having the photographer's eye, and anything with visual appeal will immediately trigger the urge to grab the camera and capture that scene. That's why it's so important to  always have a camera with you. It's not about programmed vs. casual photography, either: if you like photography, you will see photographically all the time, whether consciously or unconsciously, and the only difference will be if you have a camera with you (thus giving you the chance to take a picture) or not.

Toledo, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Loarre, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Panticosa, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Cities and forests, streets and waterfalls, people and trees, the content is totally irrelevant, what matters is that these photographs came to life while you were primarily being something else (a carrier in a hurry, a teacher in control, a family guy). One could argue that the biggest difference between conscious photography and what I here call 'handbag photography' is that the former places the focus on photography itself, therefore relegating all other concerns to a secondary level, while the latter places the emphasis in whatever other activity you are performing, and introduces photography as a companion, something that happens naturally without looking for it.

Ordesa waterfall I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Ordesa waterfall II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
A walk in Panticosa, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ordesa forest I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Ordesa forest II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Ordesa forest III, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Like a good friend, photography will come to you whenever you see something of visual interest, providing you have a camera with you, that is!

29 Sep 2014

Seeing in monochrome: Talat Phlu Photowalk

One of the goals I set at the beginning of the year to improve and broaden my photography was learning to see in monochrome, sharpening my eye to recognize and find black and white scenes around me, not just relying on post-processing to achieve that look in the computer. I have been converting more files to monochrome lately, but those were always envisioned and captured as color files at the beginning, and only turned into greyscale later on, to see if they would work that way or not. Many of them did, in fact, but it had always remain an afterthought. Today there was a photowalk in a neighborhood of my city that I had never been to, so I decided this was as good an opportunity as any to reverse my way of shooting and actively see and look for monochromes from the start.

Slow motions, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Afternoon shift, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I always shoot in RAW, but today I set the picture style of the camera to monochrome, so the screen and viewfinder showed all in black and white, but the images captured still have all the color information; only the preview is black and white, which is very handy as it helps visualizing the scenes directly as you intend them to be and that helps understanding much better the dynamics of light and shadow that govern most monochrome images. It was early afternoon, the light was quite harsh and the shadows deep black, so pre-visualizing the captures as monochromes in-camera really helped me to see in terms of contrast around me and, therefore, create stronger images.

My home by the tracks I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
My home by the tracks II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Arched station, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
We started off at Talat Phlu BTS station, and slowly made our way to Wongwian Yai Station, around 3 kilometers away, which was the ending point of the itinerary. The walk started crossing a local, busy neighborhood along the main road, full of businesses, traffic and markets, but soon we left the broad street to go into a quieter community, crossed by winding, narrow alleyways and dark, open passages. Silence came upon us and our feet became slower and more acute. But the real point of interest of the whole walk was not the place itself but rather the people inhabiting those quarters, their tasks and routines, their homes and chores. Their daily lives.

The queue, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Figuring out, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Divergent directions, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The bench, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Textures of time, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Healthy habit, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I saw people working in the heat of the sun and in the shade of their open houses, people lining up to purchase some food and people walking to unknown places, people awaiting and people enjoying a break with a companion (a cigarette, a book). There was people taking a nap in the open, people eating and some people feeding others; there were kids on their own, and kids well guarded. People of all ages doing the things we all do everyday, unperturbed by our foreign presence.

Discomfort, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Guarded siesta, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Lunch, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Dinner, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Prince of the street, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The joy of childhood, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There was human presence everywhere; after all, Bangkok is an overly populated city, and not encountering people anywhere you go would actually be the surprising thing. But, as interesting and varied, diverse and appealing all the people we passed along our way were, I kept sensing elusive glimpses of life that was not fully seen, traces of sound, of breathing, of humanity hidden behind the open doors and windows, under the light of bright bulbs, in front of loud TV's. There were more people around that I could fully see, they were just there, meters from me, yet they remained disguised and covered, hidden from my view even though I could feel them so near, or spot them as tiny figures in the distance.

The missing pieces I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The missing pieces II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Human scope, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There are days when you see nothing, and days when you find stories at every step you take. Today was one of the latter: there were more beats than I could catch, since I had to go along at the group's pace for fear or getting lost behind. Notwithstanding, I really enjoyed the walk, and the fact that I visualized the whole time in monochrome made the consequent post-processing stage much easier. Upon importing the pictures into the computer, I immediately converted them all into black and white, so I have never seen any of the captures from this day in color. I might, one day, since I keep all RAW files, but that was not the point of the exercise: I saw in monochrome, therefore that's how my memories have been forged. My photographs have no choice but to follow.

The hand that knotted the rope, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm